By JEROME L. SHERMAN
December 14, 2007
The House on Tuesday approved a bill that would make the national Do Not Call registry permanent, eliminating a five-year expiration date that could remove millions of numbers from the list in June.
Since its launch in 2003, the registry has recorded more than 145 million phone numbers from both cell phones and land lines.
"Once people take the step to say, 'Don't call me,' that should be it," said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., the legislation's primary sponsor.
The bill now faces Senate approval, and Doyle said he knows of no opposition there.
The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees the registry, has said it will not drop any numbers until lawmakers act.
"We're waiting to see how the process plays out," said Mitch Katz, a spokesman for the FTC.
Consumers can sign up for the list at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222.
When Congress first approved the national list, there was no end date, Doyle said. The FTC added a requirement that consumers sign up again after five years, in part because representatives from the telemarketing industry feared that the registry wouldn't be able to track disconnected or reassigned phone numbers.
That issue has become less of a concern as the use of cell phones spreads and some consumers hold onto their numbers when they move. Also, the FTC has hired a contractor to review the registry regularly and purge unused numbers.
In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge from the American Teleservices Association, which described the law as a violation of free speech.
The organization has changed its stance since then, and it has worked with Doyle on his legislation.
"The registry has not hurt the industry to the extent we thought it would," said Zachary Rice, director of government affairs for the American Teleservices Association "We're living with it, and it has been a huge success for consumers."
Indeed, the Do Not Call registry has become extremely popular. In January 2006, a Harris Interactive poll found that 94 percent of Americans had heard of the national list, and 76 percent had added their phone numbers.
"It's a government success story," Katz said. "We're glad people know it works."
The FTC also has had enforcement successes, bringing 34 cases against violators of the do-not-call rules. The largest settlement came in 2005, when DirecTV, the satellite television provider, agreed to pay a $5.3 million penalty.
Last month, the commission reached a $4.4 million settlement with Craftmatic, which sells adjustable beds. The company had allegedly pulled tens of thousands of phone numbers from a contest form, even though the form didn't warn consumers that they would receive sales calls.
The national registry doesn't cover phone calls from charities, survey takers and political organizations.
Doyle, vice chairman of the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet, introduced the Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007 in September. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., is the lead Republican co-sponsor. The legislation was approved Tuesday in a voice vote.
After the vote, Doyle said he spoke to several senators who said they would support a similar bill sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
"I don't think there's really any legitimate opposition to the bill right now," Doyle said.
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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